It’s counterintuitive: We are not permitted by the Torah to allow our animals to do work for us on Shabbos, yet if our one-year-old turns the light on, we don’t have to stop them. The same thing regarding damages to another person’s property: There are many cases for which we are responsible if our property, including pets, destroys someone else’s property, but we are not obligated to pay if our children did the damage.
The reasoning is simple. We don’t own our children. True, our animal didn’t ask before it caused financial loss to someone, but it’s our property, so we are responsible. Children, on the other hand, are independent of us. If they hurt someone, it’s between them and the person whom they’ve harmed. Indeed, while they are exempt of paying damages as a child, those who are stringent should pay for losses they caused others when young.
This attitude is very helpful in educating our children: They are independent of us, and we were entrusted by Hashem to nurture and raise them in a safe, positive Yiddishe environment. Trusting too much in the strong bond we feel with our children can lead us in the opposite direction, making us feel that our children are our extension. This misunderstanding can make it a challenge to correctly use our bond to raise them in a healthy environment. Back in the ’60s, someone asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe for practical advice in not hitting his son when the child disobeyed (this wasn’t as socially unacceptable as it is today). The Rebbe suggested he view the child as if he were someone else’s but given to him and his wife to raise in the way of Torah and Mitzvos.
Realizing all this makes it easier to give proper attention to each child’s specific physical and emotional needs. It also helps prevent us from viewing them as an extension of ourselves, which can lead to unwarranted disappointment. When they grow up—just like we did—and have opinions of their own, it won’t take us by surprise. Indeed, the opposite will be the true; we can experience true nachas of watching the sapling grow into a tree.
May it be a successful school year for all our children, for truly it is they who will ultimately bring the redemption to pass, ushering in a time of light and joy.
Wishing you a wonderful Shabbos,